London, Ontario

Thinking of this poem on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, April 26, 1986.
Painting by Jim Kemp.

Smog Alert

Throughout our listening areajimkemppaintingfigureblueskirtseatedbraque
light pollution. Evening haze

drifts down from some secret smelter
depending on which wind blows. Small

particulate matter fills the air, fills our lungs
with tiny lumps that hang there undetected
except we can no longer fully breathe.

Cosmic clouds descend upon us. Below
breath. Below thought. Below bellow.

Probability of precipitation. Mixed rain
and thunder showers. Severe weather

warning. War in heaven, warming
torrents into twisters. Forecast unforeseen.

The radio calls for showers.  Fog patches.
Clouds clog the mind, crowding thought.

Now calm come… clear of cloud…
I’m thinking stars. Or stars are thinking me.

Where are they? Beyond the veil, still
twinkling, emitting their own dust trails.

Sound/performance poet Penn Kemp lives in London, Ontario.  UWO has asked her to be writer-in-residence for 2009-2010.  Among her publications are more than twenty-five books of poetry and drama, ten CDs of Sound Opera and…

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Kate Roger’s Book Review: Barbaric Cultural Practice by Penn Kemp

Penn Poetry New West Barbaric

Reading Barbaric Cultural Practice at Poetry New West, BC

Book Review: Barbaric Cultural Practice by Penn Kemp

Quattro Books 2016; ISBN 978-1-988254-38-8

The title of Penn Kemp’s most recent poetry collection reflects her urgent activist response to government announcements she thought could undermine Canadian diversity.  As they campaigned to hold onto power in 2015, the Harper Conservatives vowed to create an RCMP tip line where Canadians could report suspected “barbaric cultural practices” such as honour killings and female genital mutilation. Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch said the hotline would allow “citizens and victims” to directly reach out to authorities because such, “practices have no place in Canadian society”[i]— but the effect was to demonize new Canadians and polarize society around identity politics.

In this latest collection, peripatetic poet, and author of more than 25 books, Penn Kemp, points out the “barbaric cultural practices” of Canada and the West:  proxy wars, poverty and pollution. Her poetic critiques engage the reader with wit and word play. As an ex-patriot Canadian poet based in Hong Kong where freedom is under threat, I could relate to Penn Kemp’s broad, ironic perspective in Barbaric Cultural Practice.

In “Arms and the Boy” (p.30),  the narrator watching war coverage falls  “through the scream as if to land/among proud and elegant peoples/divided by civil, uncivil arms.//Women and men cleaving, cleft, bereft./ Dispossessed of a West they thought they knew./Dis/oriented, where do they turn?”

The boy who survives the onslaught of smart bombs, “…cannot speak–/language lost though lies thrive.”

In ”Smog Alert” (p.26),  the air is gritty—chewable: “Clouds crowd the mind,  clogging thought.”

The city often “fills/our lungs with tiny lumps that hang there/”.

No matter the seriousness of their subject matter, the poems in this collection avoid despair. A poet’s sense of wonder is never far off. Penn Kemp plays with how the poem can come to us as reluctant visitation. In “Cogito Ergo Sum” (p.15),  Kemp jokes, “This is the poem and I/take no hand in it. I/want to write a comedy.//That’s rich. That’s fun/ny laughs the voice in/my head that keeps/right on talking the poem/down the tree and onto//the screen. “

In “Paraclete down the Street” (p.65) a “sudden poem lights/on (her) shoulder, a tameable parakeet…”.

Kemp is a jazz poet who often riffs on her subject with internal rhyme and alliteration. Reading this collection has made me want to pun! Even when she protests how computers distance us from poetry Penn Kemp is a-mused. In “Mind the Game” (p.19), she pauses and reflects that, “We are beyond the mouse.// My Spell Checker would change Cogito to Caught./For someone’s  Suggest salmon’s.”

In the poignant poem “Struck by Stroke” (p.58) the poet shows her emotional range. The narrator is gentle on the topic of love and ageing: “Those who give the brain a rest recover/quicker…His mind is air-brushed/to a whiter, more spacious landscape/reflected in such snowy waste outside.//So we sink into sweet reverie fireside,/unthinking, unburdened…”.

In “For the Trip” (p.82), the narrator offers her ageing mother, who is searching for a butterfly, a “beaded purse with its butterfly motif as substitute/more lasting than real…”.

As a lover of birds and wilderness I especially appreciate Kemp’s poems penned in praise of nature. They are as ominous as they are playful about the consequences of the Anthropocene. In “Bass on the Grass” (p.95) the narrator warns that “We have been fluid mercury/in a mess of water weed/swimming cross-current.//We know to elude the net, a web’s small intricacy.”

The narrator concludes, “We scry so little, under water or on this/unnatural resting place where up and down/dissolves. Long lines no longer connect us.”

In “Grazing the Face of Climate Change” (p.97), birds migrate and “Envy emulates flight,/lights desire, douses/doubt in fiercer certainty.”

Icarus is evoked in the same poem as warning about global warming, “Bright implausible wings dim/before a brighter sun, too close.” The narrator warns, “Reflect, refract, reflect/again and loss a gain.//Free to fail only/once and then no/longer. He arrives//dead last. Death lasts/for/ever.//No longer/boy but/myth.”

In Barbaric Cultural Practice Penn Kemp challenges us to reflect the way only she can. Trudeau may be at the helm, but Canada’s own Trump, henchmen and women are waiting in the wings. This collection remains relevant. In the final poem of the book, “Ongoing Cultural Practice” (p.108), Kemp advises those of us who love humanity and the natural world to “Bear down hard./The time is come.”

[i] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-barbaric-cultural-practices-law-1.3254118

Reviewed by Kate Rogers

 

 

A poem for Vimy

“In the slow dream of trees may the men awake / who died here”

This is a line from my poem, ‘The Stand of Oak”,
http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-100/vimy-oaks-poetry/the-stand-of-oak/.
The poem will be read at Vimy on the Centenary, April 9, 2017.

I am so touched that the line has been carved on the Vimy Flute: read its amazing story on http://vimyflute.blogspot.ca/2017/03/introducing-vimy-flute.html.  The flute will be played at Vimy Ridge April 9 and on the battlefields of France throughout April.  What an honour.

The Stand of Oak

Battle’s devastation cut down men and oaks,
leaving Vimy Ridge bare from ’16 till now.
But one veteran sent a few acorns to Canada

and raised a grove memento. Now these trees
will stand as metaphor for endurance, mingled
roots living on in lieu of the soldiers who fell.

Now our Canadian branches will be returning
home to be grafted on European oak saplings.
They’ll respond to wind in the crackling Fall.

These oaks will listen through trembling roots
to news that travels in the near neighbourwood:
subtle climate shiftings from drought to deluge.

The lobed leaves that open to embrace sun, to
soak in rain: they will know a longer time we
can only imagine, knowing history’s record.

This copse you plant now may not remember
a war a century past though it could realize its
own long span to last the whole millennium.

The oaks you plant on Vimy Ridge will not be
thinking of men today or ever: their work is in
attending to the rise from heartwood out to leaf.

These oaks may not thank you personally but
their presence is gratitude enough, is witness.
Thriving, they will return life to Vimy Ridge.

In the slow dream of trees may the men awake
who died here. May they be recalled by name
in their prime, rising as hope from desolation.

Vimy flute 2017

@vimyfoundation @pennkemp Fantastic!

Stephen Rensink has carved the Vimy Flute and Ryan Mullens will play it at Vimy Ridge and on the battlefields of France.

Sir Arthur Currie was my great-uncle: I grew up hearing stories of #Vimy100
An honour to have a poem read @1917Vimy, http://www.vimyfoundation.ca.

On my BC tour for my new book from Quattro Books, Barbaric Cultural Practice, I’ll be reading this poem.  https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/heres-to-spring-and-the-spring-tour/.

You can see the video of my reading on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWNwTXr1FMM&index=3&list=PLlK1FubxTgqpR9NBS_rtPz865021PC2fD.

From the London Free Press: “Verse and sound stir Vimy salute“:

http://www.lfpress.com/2017/04/07/verse-and-sound-stir-vimy-salute

London poet Penn Kemp won’t be at Vimy Ridge Sunday when the 100th anniversary of the historic battle won by Canadian soldiers in 1917 is commemorated.

But she’ll be there in words, music and spirit on the battlefield where her great uncle Sir Arthur Currie led one of the four Canadian divisions to what historians say was a nation-building victory.

A poem by Kemp, A Stand of Oak, will be read at Vimy. Also, retired Canadian army reservist Ryan Mullens will play Amazing Grace at the ridge on a two-pronged drone flute made of Vimy oak with a line from Kemp’s poem — “In the slow dream of trees may the men awake who died here” — engraved on it.

“I was truly, truly honoured,” said Kemp about her poem and the line written on the flute.

“(Mullens) will be playing the flute at all the battlefields this week. I was really moved when they asked me if they could use the line.”


An excerpt from Penn Kemp’s poem A Stand of Oaks is engraved on the flute that will be played on Vimy Ridge on Sunday. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

The “Vimy oak” of the flute comes from a stand of trees grown from acorns collected by Canadian solider Leslie Miller at the end of the battle that he sent home and were planted in Scarborough.

Today, the stand of trees is called Vimy Oaks. Since there are no longer oak trees on the ridge where a memorial was built to commemorate the battle, a group of Canadians, in partnership with the Vimy Foundation, is making plans to plant descendants of the original trees as a memorial to the Canadian soldiers who died there.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9-12, 1917, involved four Canadian divisions victorious against three German divisions and is considered by historians as a major symbol of nationhood.

The Canadian force of 97,000 men suffered casualties of 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded, with four men later awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.

Kemp, London’s first poet laureate, is touring Western Canada promoting her new book of poems, Barbaric Cultural Practice.

But Kemp will read A Stand of Oak at each stop, including Sunday in New Westminster.

“It’s very stirring to me, the music of the two-pronged flute because it has a very mournful sound with the melody played on one side and a drone on the other like a bagpipe,” Kemp said. “But also because I have Celtic heritage.”

The flute was crafted by retired teacher Stephen Rensink, who lives in the tiny hamlet of Greenbank, north of Oshawa.

“It was Ryan’s idea to make the flute and we originally thought of using maple,” said Rensink, who carved three flutes from the oak, a hobby that’s produced more than 600 instruments over the years.

“But then Ryan came across this story about the Vimy Oaks, a woodlot I’d driven by many times.

“Then we started talking about putting some kind of symbol on the flute, something like Lest We Forget, and I started researching and came across this poem by Penn on the Vimy Foundation website.

“When I read that line, I thought, ‘Holy cow, this is it. This is the one.’ It just hit me. It was so crystal clear to me.”

Wrote Mullens in an email: “It’s a very beautiful sentence and a beautiful poem, which I fall in love with more and more every time I read it. It will add a lot to the Vimy flute.”

Joe Belanger, jbelanger@postmedia.com

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Poem for an Awful Inauguration

January 20, 2017

This Awful Inauguration day augurs so
dimly for us all, and we aren’t even in
the United States. The world awaits

uncertain of outcome, certain only that
meanness prevails of heart and intent.
We’ve dropped into the well of offal.

An Awful Inauguration day augurs well
for the unduly rich but poorly for poor
and dispossessed, for poor middle class.

This Awful Inauguration day augurs ill
for Obamacare, for the health of a nation,
for all illegal aliens and for alienated arts.

This Awful Inauguration day augurs dimly
for us all, and we aren’t even in the Year
of the vain Fire Rooster till January 28.

O weather vane, you parade your lies as
truth. You spin with the wind. You turn.
You twitter and trumpet trust topsy-turvy.

This Awful Inauguration day crows triumph
for the cock of the walk, king for a day, or
another four years. We withhold, withstand

his very dangerous flash in a very wide pan.
But we don’t withdraw. We march, we hold
on, hold to, truth as we know it. We refuse.

We are other. We are alien. We protest: these
Auguries of Inauguration are not innocent.

Penn Kemp

Love Hope Opt 11779840_10152952905252051_2078125788695655817_o

How we are (in)formed!

Listening to http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/farewell-to-2016-robert-harris-on-albums-that-changed-your-life-2nd-annual-shut-up-i-m-thinking-word-game-1.3906841/the-music-that-changed-your-world-episode-1-1.3906953.

Robert Harris’s choices are interesting, and all too telling!

The delicious Rosalind Russell sings, “Just throw your knowledge in his face… that’s the second way to lose a man…” And then George Gaynes sings for “his gentle girl, his quiet girl…” from On the Town, 1949. “We need no words./ She sees— she knows… Where is that special girl/Who is soft, soft as snow/ Somewhere /Somewhere, my quiet girl”.

Bernstein’s lyrics enforce the notion of ‘a gentle, quiet’ girl who is “a different kind of girl” from the “sharp, intellectual kind” usually picked. And so stereotypes are deeply embedded from childhood on… On the Town heralds in the ‘50’s!

Oh how things have changed… or not!

https://no1lyrics.com/song/one-hundred-easy-ways-483321
http://lyrics.wikia.com/wiki/Leonard_Bernstein:A_Quiet_Girl

“It happens over and over
I pick the sharp intellectual kind
Why couldn’t this time be different
Why couldn’t she – only be
Another kind – A different kind of girl

I love a quiet girl
I love a gentle girl”

Ah, the songs were out of context…I stand corrected, though I still question Robert Harris’s choices:)! “It was Betty Comden and Adolf Green who wrote the lyrics, Not Leonard! and if you watch the play, the hero changes his mind about the unquiet girl and gets Ruth! The song ends up being almost satirical in its proper setting.” Good to hear. 

Penn Winnipeg bear

Photo: Heidi Greco

On Tradition

 

May 2017 SHINE!

http://www.lfpress.com/2016/12/26/london-new-years-day-chilling-at-home-most-common-tradition.

For a rebel like me, what do I know about tradition? In my youth, along with the rest of my 60’s generation, I cast off all tradition as old hat. I scorned as false the sense of security that tradition offers. We vowed to create everything new! But this year especially, after such world-wide disruption, tradition gives comfort and joy, as the carol’s refrain has it. The old hat fits just right. Nostalgia offers a familiar past that is safer than the unpredictable future. Tradition is a way of handing down a swirling legacy to children and grandchildren, establishing the implant of warm memories. Here’s to plum pudding lit with brandy flame for New Year’s dinner! Christmas cake soaked in rum since early November… eggnog and Handel’s Messiah!

Icelanders have a tradition of giving each other books and then quietly reading at home all through Christmas Eve. I’d be too antsy to read on a night so redolent with anticipation. But I’m ready to establish a new tradition of peacefully reading through New Year’s Day. Reading quietly, very quietly, after the excess of New Year’s Eve. Sinking into the contained comfort of the latest Louise Penny novel. And poetry, luxuriating in the slow process of reading poetry, where not even eyes move fast. My only Resolutions on New Year’s are to eat less, exercise more: sound familiar? By the last Saturday in January, I’m ready for another feast….The clan collects annually for Robbie Burns and a reading of the “Address to the Haggis” before we feast on haggis and tatties. I still resolve to exercise more… later. My feeble rendition of the “Address to the Haggis” is up on https://www.facebook.com/christine.romard/videos/919139858104867/?theater

penn-1950

1952, reading Tom Sawyer (I think…)

NewYearTime

A typical New Year’s Eve pic in the Kemp household: New Year’s Baby Clare Bice and Father Time Jim Kemp en route to the Beaux Arts Ball!

Coda: If you’ve been raised on English Literature, you can’t escape the T.S. Eliot essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”.  How we fit into the wide embrace of all that has been already written.

Intimations of becoming all that already has been, is, and will be.

Janus: the two-headed month, looking back and looking forward. May your memories be dear, your present fulfilled and your future shining!

Poem for Solstice Night

All Things Considered

On the shelf inside the storm, an empty
pitcher of light awaits sage and summer
savory.  All puns are planted to present
these things as if saying were enough
to conjure the perfect illusion illuminated.
Now.  At the turning of the year after
nadir of deepest darkness, the small
Moon of Long Night turns to beam
over the orchard above the frozen lake.
The sun stands Solstice still, holding
its breath, biding its time until released
to start once more in utter clarity of cold.

 

In that perilous moment before cycles
start up again, we all can fall through
cracks.  Interstices of ice drag us down.

We grope from dusk to dark to light.
We slip between stars, drawn out
beyond what we know, considering,
considere, to be with the luminary.

Night rustles outside our window, murmurs
and squeaks.  Whimpers follow outraged
raccoon yowl.  Orange and black streak

across the dark pane I can’t see through
conjuring night creatures’ obscured world,

Scent leads a trail to territorial war, deep
enmities nurtured throughout the long wee

hours before dawn lifts that velvet cloth to
reveal grey, seeping shade back to clarity.

Penn Kemp

*

The last lines of this poem were first published in from Dream Sequins, Lyrical Myrical Press, with drawings by the brilliant Steven McCabe. See his gorgeous https://poemimage.wordpress.com/.